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Antibody-dependent enhancement of severe dengue disease in humans

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Science  17 Nov 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6365, pp. 929-932
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan6836

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Too much or too little—better than some

Dengue fever is caused by a mosquito-transmitted flavivirus resembling Zika virus. Both viruses can cause severe diseases in humans with catastrophic sequelae. It has been suspected in humans, and shown in animal models, that the host's immune responses can make disease worse. Katzelnick et al. examined data from a long-term study of Nicaraguan children exposed to dengue virus (see the Perspective by Feinberg and Ahmed). They confirmed that antibody-dependent enhancement of disease occurs at a specific range of antibody concentrations. Low levels of antibody did not enhance disease, intermediate levels exacerbated disease, and high antibody titers protected against severe disease. These findings have major implications for vaccines against flaviviruses. Indeed, recent vaccine trials have shown evidence of severe disease in some recipients who were previously exposed to virus.

Science, this issue p. 929; see also p. 865

Abstract

For dengue viruses 1 to 4 (DENV1-4), a specific range of antibody titer has been shown to enhance viral replication in vitro and severe disease in animal models. Although suspected, such antibody-dependent enhancement of severe disease has not been shown to occur in humans. Using multiple statistical approaches to study a long-term pediatric cohort in Nicaragua, we show that risk of severe dengue disease is highest within a narrow range of preexisting anti-DENV antibody titers. By contrast, we observe protection from all symptomatic dengue disease at high antibody titers. Thus, immune correlates of severe dengue must be evaluated separately from correlates of protection against symptomatic disease. These results have implications for studies of dengue pathogenesis and for vaccine development, because enhancement, not just lack of protection, is of concern.

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